The physiology of melanin deposition in health and disease

Muriel W. Lambert, Spandana Maddukuri, Katrice M. Karanfilian, Marcus L. Elias, W. Clark Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Eumelanin is the major pigment responsible for human skin color. This black/brown pigment is localized in membrane-bound organelles (melanosomes) found in specialized cells (melanocytes) in the basal layer of the epidermis. This review highlights the steps involved in melanogenesis in the epidermis and the disorders in skin pigmentation that occur when specific steps critical for this process are defective. Melanosomes, which contain tyrosinase, a major enzyme involved in melanin synthesis, develop through a series of steps in the melanocyte. They are donated from the melanocyte dendrites to the surrounding keratinocytes in the epidermis. In the keratinocytes, the melanosomes are found singly or packaged into groups, and as the keratinocytes move upward in the epidermis, the melanosomes start to degrade. This sequence of events is critical for melanin pigmentation in the skin and can be influenced by genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors, which all play a role in levels of melanization of the epidermis. The effects these factors have on skin pigmentation can be due to different underlying mechanisms involved in the melanization process leading to either hypo- or hyperpigmentary disorders. These disorders highlight the importance of mechanistic studies on the specific steps involved in the melanization process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-417
Number of pages16
JournalClinics in Dermatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


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